Israeli defense minister says Assad talking doublespeak about war

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz accused Syrian President Bashar Assad in comments broadcast Wednesday of talking "doublespeak" about war and peace with Israel and called on Damascus to create the conditions for the renewal of peace talks.

Assad had last week told the German weekly Der Spiegel "We want to make peace, peace with Israel."

In response, Israeli officials have said that if Assad is serious about reconciliation with Israel, he must stop sponsoring the Palestinian militant group Hamas and supplying arms to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia with which Israel was embroiled in a 34-day war this summer.

"The president of Syria is talking doublespeak," Peretz told peace groups in a meeting Tuesday, Israel Radio reported Wednesday. "On the one hand, he's making declarations of war and we don't have any intention of ignoring these declarations of war and we will increase our deployment in the north in accordance."

But Peretz said Syria could help bring a comprehensive peace in the area, if it chooses, reports AP.

"I am one of those who maintains that once the conditions to make peace with Syria are ripe, we need to work on it because Syria is a key to creating stability in the Middle East and I hope these conditions will be created," Peretz said.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had earlier this week rejected Assad's remarks on peace, saying he wasn't serious as long as he didn't end his support of Hezbollah and Hamas.

The last round of Israeli-Syria peace talks broke down in 2000. Israel went to great lengths to keep Syria out of the conflict in Lebanon, apparently to avoid opening another front or closing future peace options.

Since Israel's war against Hezbollah ended last month, the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Syria have been calling for a new push in peacemaking to prevent future conflicts.